Graduation Night, continued...
It was that same dream again:
Adam was walking along the beach, holding hands with Maggie. Only this time Maggie looked the way she did now—cropped hair and more plump (okay, fat). As his feet dug into the hot sand, Adam once again got that feeling that something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around to see Derek, Maggie’s boyfriend from high school. Way back when, after Maggie spent the night crying to Adam because Derek had been cheating on her, Adam had walked right up to Derek during school and sunk his fist square into Derek’s belly. Adam had never thrown a punch before in his life and he hadn’t expected Derek to go down that easily. He had expected to get suspended, but it was worth it. It felt great to punch Derek after wanting to do it for so long.
Derek had that same cocky grin on his face now that he had when Adam had first seen him with Maggie years earlier. “Excuse me, Harding,” Derek said, “but I believe this is my girlfriend.”
Adam shook his head and tried to push Derek away, but he suddenly felt his legs giving way beneath him and he had to hold onto Maggie to keep from falling. Derek laughed, “Don’t worry, Harding. I brought something for you.”
Adam looked down and saw that Derek was pushing a wheelchair. As Adam’s legs weakened, he grabbed onto the chair and carefully lowered himself into it before he collapsed completely. He watched as Derek stood next to Maggie and put his arm around her, smiling triumphantly. “You didn’t really think she’d stay with you, did you? Come on, you’re nothing but a pathetic cripple.”
“Maggie...” Adam said, looking at her imploringly, but she simply shook her head and walked away, hand in hand with Derek.
I’ve got to get her back, chair or no chair, Adam thought. He tried to put his hands on the wheels to chase after her, but then he realized his arms were gone too. Instead, all he had were two little stumps where his arms had been. He wiggled his stumps helplessly and watched Maggie and Derek disappear together into the waves...
Adam expected to wake up again in Roger’s bloody bedroom, but instead the room he found himself in was clean and white. He blinked his eyes, wondering if he was still dreaming. Maybe Joy had killed him and he was in heaven now. Adam didn’t like that prospect.
The IV pole at his side gave it away—he was in a hospital. Again. But at least this time it looked like he was on the medical side of the hospital and not the psychiatric side. He didn’t think he could take that again.
Adam rubbed his eyes with his fingers and felt a flash of pain in his left arm. It was bandaged. Suddenly, he remembered what Joy had been trying to do to him when he had passed out from some combination of pain and blood loss. She had been trying to cut off his arms. But she hadn’t managed to do it.
He tried to remember brief moments of consciousness between then and now, intermingled with strangely vivid dreams. He had a few snapshot images of the police cuffing Joy and Brad Richards. Riding in an ambulance as they tried to talk to him and get him to say his name, etc. It was all very vague. All he knew was that somehow he had been saved.
A young man in a white coat came in to the room, holding a syringe and a few test tubes. The man smiled. “I see you’re awake, Mr. Harding,” he said. “I’m Dr. Watson, one of the residents at the hospital.”
“Hi,” Adam said, rubbing his bandaged arm.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions...” Dr. Watson said.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Adam muttered.
“Do you have any idea why you’re here?” the doctor asked.
Adam recalled the malicious look in Joy’s eyes. “I know exactly why I’m here... are they in jail?”
Dr. Watson nodded. “You’re very lucky, you know. If the police hadn’t come in when they did, you might have lost your arms.”
Adam looked down at his bandaged arm. He tried to make a fist with his hand, but it was difficult. His hand was having a lot of trouble closing.
“You have some nerve damage,” the doctor told him. “You’ll probably experience some weakness in your grip. In all likelihood, it will improve.”
Adam nodded. “Okay.” He knew it could have been worse. A lot worse.
“You’re very fortunate that your friend called the police when she did,” the doctor went on.
“Maggie?” Adam said, raising his eyebrows. He smiled to himself at the thought. Maggie, his Maggie, had saved him.
Dr. Watson frowned. “No, I believe it was a Miss Bower.”
“Yes, I believe so.”
Brynne had been the one who saved his life? How had she even known to call the police in the first place?
He had been wrong about Brynne before. She wasn’t the one behind the threatening letters. And it seemed as if... she really, truly loved him, as hard to believe as that was.
“She’s outside in the waiting room,” Dr. Watson said. “Would you like me to bring her in?”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “Go ahead.”
Maggie nearly cried with relief when the hospital called to let them know that Adam was all right. She did her best to hide her emotions from Brynne, who cried freely. “I didn’t believe him when he told me what was going on,” Brynne sobbed. “It’s all my fault...”
A bit melodramatic, aren’t we, dearie? But Brynne certainly meant well. And she had been the one who had placed the call to the police, which had probably saved Adam’s life.
Brynne readjusted her make-up in the mirror before they left for the hospital. Maggie couldn’t resist smoothing out her own hair a little bit, but she knew it was ridiculous. Brynne was so gorgeous, Maggie felt awkward even standing next to her.
Here is a beautiful, sweet, young woman. I am a morbidly obese mental case. Who’s the better catch? Maggie nearly laughed at the thought.
“Split a cab to the hospital?” Brynne offered.
Maggie nodded. She didn’t even have enough money in her purse to pay her cabfare. Adam had told her about a few hundred dollars in spare cash he kept around the house, but she didn’t want to take his money.
When they got to the hospital, they met Dr. Watson, the resident taking care of Adam, who told them he was still sedated. The first thing the good doctor did was put his arms around Brynne to comfort her as Maggie stood watching awkwardly. He even handed her a tissue so she wouldn’t ruin her make-up. “Is there anywhere we can sit?” Maggie asked Dr. Watson.
Dr. Watson gave Maggie a once over. “You can go in the waiting room,” he said irritably. He took Brynne’s hands in his. “I’ll call you ladies the second he wakes up.”
In the waiting room, Maggie found that she was too large to fit in the seats. She thought if she really tried, she might be able to squeeze in, but then she was concerned she might not be able to get out again later. That had happened once before and it had been very embarrassing. Brynne noticed Maggie’s dilemma and helped her retrieve a folding chair from one of the receptionists.
“I’m so glad he’s all right,” Brynne said, when they were both comfortably seated. “I feel like... I’ve been given a second chance. You know?”
Maggie nodded, looking away. She didn’t want to have this conversation.
“How do you know Adam, anyway?” Brynne asked her.
“We met in high school,” Maggie said vaguely.
“Was that before he... you know...?”
Maggie nodded again.
“What was he like back then?” Brynne asked eagerly.
“He was... the same,” Maggie replied. “He was... happier, I guess. But always very sweet, very considerate.”
Brynne smiled. “I bet the girls loved him.”
“Pretty much,” Maggie said. “If you were a girl walking with Adam, he’d always insist on carrying your books for you.”
“Oh my god, that’s so corny!” Brynne laughed. “I love it! Did he ever hit on you?”
You have no idea. “Not... really.”
“You’re probably lucky then,” Brynne confided. “He’s very hard to resist.”
Oh, don’t I know it. “I guess so...”
The women chatted until Dr. Watson came out to tell them Adam had woken up. He put his hand on Brynne’s shoulder when he told her. They followed the doctor to his room and Maggie felt a growing nervousness in her stomach. She wanted to leave the hospital now and never return. It would just be easier that way for everyone, really.
“Why don’t you go in first?” Maggie said to Brynne, when they got to his room. “You obviously have some important things to discuss with him. I’ll just... wait outside.”
“Really?” Brynne smiled. “That’s so nice of you, Maggie. I really would like to be alone with him. Just for a few minutes.”
That’s how long you think it will take, huh? Maggie felt a sense of resignation. She couldn’t compete with Brynne. Adam had been overwhelmed by the shock of seeing Maggie again, but he had to come to his senses soon.
As Brynne walked into Adam’s room, Maggie couldn’t help but peek in through the slightly opened door. She saw Adam lying in bed, his wheelchair at his bedside. There was a thick white bandage around his left upper arm.
“Brynne?” His eyes widened when he saw her and he sat up in bed. Maggie noticed he winced slightly when he put weight on his arm. “What are you doing here?”
“Adam,” Brynne breathed. “I’m so sorry... I’m so sorry...”
Maggie frowned. Why was Brynne apologizing? Maggie had been under the impression that Adam had been the one who ended their relationship. Unless... Brynne had broken it off...
And now she wanted him back.
“I heard you saved my life,” Adam said. He was still staring at her.
“It’s the least I could do,” Brynne said, “to show you how I feel about you.” She sat down on his bed and picked up his hand. “Adam, I love you so much.”
Maggie felt her stomach sink as Brynne leaned forward and pressed her lips onto Adam’s. And he wasn’t pushing her away. There was a hard lump in her throat and her eyes began to sting. I should leave before this gets any worse.
When Brynne pulled away, Adam was smiling. “Brynne, I love you too...” he said.
“Fuck,” Maggie whispered through her tears. She felt like she was choking and she couldn’t help but let out a hoarse whimper.
Adam heard the noise and looked up sharply. His eyes met hers, peeking through the crack in the door. “Maggie,” he said quietly.
She began to back away, but he cocked his finger at her, gesturing for her to come closer. She pulled open the door, exposing Brynne’s beaming face. She stepped closer to Adam’s bedside. To her surprise, he snatched up her hand with his right hand, closing his fist around her fingers with a firm grip.
“Brynne,” Adam said, “have you met Maggie?”
“Oh yes,” Brynne said, smiling, “she’s wonderful.”
“You think so?” Adam raised an eyebrow. He looked over at Maggie and shook his head. “I’ve had some time to think about this. Brynne, let me tell you about this girl. Let me tell you what she’s done to me.”
Brynne frowned. Maggie averted her eyes, staring down at her large breasts, poorly concealed by her black shirt.
“I was in love with her,” Adam said. He was trying to make eye contact with Maggie, but she avoided him. She attempted to pull her hand back, but his grip was solid. She felt the blood leaving her fingers. “I was in love with her since the day I met her when I was fifteen. And she was... really beautiful then. I mean, Brynne, you’re beautiful, but Maggie was... incredible. But of course, she rejected me. No matter what I did, she didn’t want me. But that’s okay... that was her decision. We became good friends instead.”
Maggie made another attempt to get her hand free as she wiped tears from her face, but Adam’s eyes darkened and he tightened his grip further. “Then when I was eighteen, I lost half my fucking body,” Adam went on. “Maggie was in the same goddamn hospital with me. She was my best friend and she didn’t once come to see me, to ask how I was, to try to help me out, to... I don’t know. It would have been nice if she had at least come by. It wasn’t like I could go find her.”
Maggie couldn’t hold back her tears at all anymore. She was crying almost hysterically. But Adam didn’t seem to care. “And then for ten years, not a word,” he continued. “I tried to call her a few times, but that was obviously a waste. I think I gave up on my nineteenth birthday, when she didn’t even bother to send me a card.”
“I’m sorry!” Maggie sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Adam!”
She wanted to run out, but he wasn’t letting her. He wanted to make sure she heard all of this. Brynne, for her part, was staring at the two of them in shock.
“And then, after I beg her, she helps me out of that fucking mental hospital,” Adam said. “Pretty nice, huh? I couldn’t believe it either. I was so shocked that two days ago, I asked her to marry me.”
“You... you what?” Brynne asked, breaking out of her trance.
“Don’t worry,” Adam said. “The thing about Maggie is, she never goes through with anything she says she’s going to do. Especially when it comes to me. She never had any intention of marrying me. See, she’s already trying to think of a way out of it...”
Maggie was crying too hard to respond to him. She looked down and saw the fingers on the hand Adam was holding had turned slightly purple. She wanted to die right then and there.
“See, I just realized something,” Adam said thoughtfully. “All that time I was chasing her and telling her I loved her, she really never gave me any indication back that she felt the same way about me. She only told me she loved me if I pleaded with her first.”
“That’s not true,” Maggie whispered, but as she spoke the words she realized that it was true.
“You want to leave, don’t you Maggie?” Adam said to her. Suddenly, he released his grip on her hand. “Fine. Go. If that’s what you want, get out of here.”
Maggie looked up at Brynne, who was completely pale. She looked down at Adam, who was flushed from the effort of his little speech. And then she did the “typical Maggie thing”, which was she ran out of his room and out of the hospital forever.
Brynne was in complete shock. As she watched Adam speaking to that woman... that fat woman who had claimed to just be his friend, she felt the extent of his pain. This woman Maggie had really hurt him. She had screwed him up, but good.
Adam’s eyes were filling with tears as he gave his speech, but Maggie seemed not to notice. She just seemed completely focused on getting the hell out of that room. I wouldn’t treat him this way, Brynne told herself. At that moment, she loved him with every bone in her body.
When Maggie fled from the room, Adam leaned back down against his pillows, exhausted from the effort. He wiped his eyes self-consciously.
“Adam, sweetie...” Brynne began, taking his hand.
Adam looked over at her and this time he couldn’t help himself. He started crying. Brynne felt awkward comforting him, because she knew he was crying over that woman. It was, in fact, one of the few times in her life she had ever seen a man cry.
“That fucking bitch,” he whispered, trying to compose himself.
He loves her so much. Why can’t anyone feel that way about me? Brynne squeezed Adam’s hand.
“I just... I had to know how she felt...” he looked away. “Maybe I shouldn’t have attacked her that way. But you saw her... she was ready to just leave... she doesn’t care about me...”
“I don’t think she would have left,” Brynne said.
Adam sighed and reached over for his wheelchair. It was on his left side and he was having a lot of trouble getting a good grip on the chair with his injured hand. Brynne helped by pushing the chair closer to him. “Thanks,” Adam said. He held up his right arm, which had the IV coming out of it. “Can you pull this out for me?”
“I... I don’t think you’re supposed to...” Brynne hesitated.
Adam frowned. “I’m pulling this out, one way or another. You gonna help me?”
Brynne obligingly pulled off the tape covering the IV and gently pulled the tube out of his vein. A trickle of dark blood came out, but Adam didn’t seem bothered by it. He pulled the covers off his legs and pulled his body toward the wheelchair. He was having a little trouble because of his left arm, but this was a maneuver he had done every day of his life for the last ten years, so he managed to get into the chair without slipping. He pulled his thin, bare legs into the wheelchair one at a time, positioning them in the footrests.
“Where are you going?” Brynne asked him.
“I’m going to go find Roger,” Adam replied. “At least... I can be there for him.” He tried wheeling the chair and winced slightly when he used his left arm. “Just my luck, I’m fucking left-handed too.”
Brynne’s eyes filled with tears. “I guess there’s no point in my telling you that I still want to be your girlfriend.”
Adam shook his head slowly. “You know I love you, Brynne... but come on...”
“It’s not your wheelchair that matters,” Brynne said sadly. “It’s that... I could never compete with her.”
Adam didn’t say anything.
“So,” Brynne said, trying to smile, “she really used to be prettier than me?”
“She still is,” Adam replied.
Adam felt awful, both physically and mentally. He felt dizzy from all the blood he had apparently lost and from the effort of yelling at Maggie. But worse than that, he felt a deep sadness. Driving Maggie away had been even easier than he had feared it would be.
He had felt a sense of deja vu as he lay in the hospital bed and saw Maggie’s face peeking into his room. Not that she had ever come that close when he was first injured, but he saw her getting ready to flee. If he hadn’t called her name, she would have been out the door in five minutes. Even with the marriage proposal, even with half her stuff in his apartment. She was ready to give up on him, just like that.
And when he realized that, something inside him had snapped. He wanted to scream at her, shake her, ask her why she always had to act this way. She already knew he loved her more than anything else in the world... what more did she want?
And now she was gone. It was that goddamn easy.
Adam didn’t know how he was going to find Roger in this hospital. Roger was the only person in the world who would understand about Maggie, but then again, Roger had much worse problems right now. Adam remembered what Joy had done to him.
Adam hated being in hospitals, even when he wasn’t a patient. He had come to a hospital last year when his uncle had a heart attack and he had been mistaken for a patient on multiple occasions. It didn’t matter that he was in normal clothing and he wasn’t even in one of the hospital wheelchairs. It got to the point where he refused to leave his parents even to go get a soda, because the nurses kept trying to return him to his room.
Adam flagged down a nurse that was passing by, “Hey, do you know how I can find a guy who’s a patient in this hospital?”
The nurse looked him up and down, from his wheelchair to his hospital gown to the ID tag on his wrist. “What are you doing out of your room?” she demanded to know.
“You can’t take that wheelchair out of the hospital,” she said.
“This is my wheelchair,” Adam said, gritting his teeth.
“Oh no, you’re going back to your room,” the nurse insisted. “And where’s your IV?” She spotted the blood on his arm. “Did you pull out your IV??”
Adam sighed and allowed the nurse to wheel him back to his room. He was never going to find Roger anyway and his bandaged arm was killing him.
As the nurse wheeled him, he saw a man in a hospital gown being walked around the hallway by a woman, who was tenderly holding his arm. The man seemed to be very sick by the gaunt appearance of his face, but this woman was supporting him. She was holding him up, keeping him from falling.
Adam looked down at his legs and remembered eleven years ago, how he had struggled just to be able to wheel himself down the hallway. Maggie certainly hadn’t been there then to help him, to keep him from bumping into walls. And he realized with resignation that she wouldn’t be here for him now either.
She was gone for good.